Communication, Success and Teams

Effective communications, enabling success, and building teams include well-worn ideas. Working these into habits can still improve yourself, your team, your organization.

A consistent way to succeed is also a simple one – Tell folks what you’re planning to do, do it, then let folks know what you’ve done. It’s effective and ensures nothing gets too far afield before it’s caught and corrected.

Communication is paramount. By encouraging communication, you encourage cooperation.

Basics include

  • Reading and answering email
  • Returning calls
  • Not leaving too much detail in voice mail; noting when, where and how you can be reached and when you’ll call back

Maybe less obvious: Note how you prefer to communicate. Be flexible in considering others’ preferences.

Meeting in-person allows for nuances and serendipity. It’s the best way for new folks to learn about one another. Meetings allow for multi-party back and forth. It’s also the most time-consuming and coordination-intensive. Meetings need active management to be kept productive.

Phone calls are personal through putting voice to name. A conference call can keep a team attuned with events. A call is intimate and immediate because good phone calls are all that’s happening for the duration of a call. They take coordination, too.

Email allows for more thoughtful response. They can be written, sent, received, and read on individuals’ schedules. They can cover detailed information and provide a record for same. They miss out on personality. Beyond facts, they can be tone-deaf.

IM can be great for one-on-one and small-group communication. “Presence awareness” – who’s online and reachable – gives this mode a leg up on email and the phone. Messages can be disruptive, and the expectation that they’re responded to immediately creates pressure and difficulties for those who are in a work zone or mid-conversation with others.

Meetings are important they’re a great way to share information with a wide group, foster conversation. and speed the question and answer process. Actively managing them will improve their effectiveness.Schedule lengths; posit an agenda; request feedback before the meeting; stick to the agenda’s focus. Manage meetings to scheduled length and agenda. Recall that when five people are in an hour-long meeting, that’s five hours spent.

Communication is key to preparing your team for successTransparency is a key part of communication.

  • Share the overall vision with the team
  • In smaller groups and with individuals, tailor that vision to their areas of participation
  • Note where individual contributions fit into the overall strategy
  • Be aware of sensitivities, yet opt for openness

Say Thank You.

  • Dollars are a great way to say Thank You
  • Time off is a great way to say Thank You
  • Saying “Thank you” is a great way to say thank you  – This one’s no-cost and often overlooked.



Creative Commons License photo credit: woodleywonderworks


Fostering New Thinking within Organizations

Injecting new thinking into existing organizations, from within the organization itself, is difficult. Even when the need for “thinking different” is plain, entrenchment – of process, people, expectation – make diverging from set paths a chore. One entrepreneurial speaker is seeing an encouraging trend:

Eric Ries, the driving force behind the “lean startup” movement, which encourages high efficiency and meticulous metrics tracking within entrepreneurial ventures. Ries … noticed a trend among some of the people attending his talks. Many managers from large companies were coming to his sessions to learn what they could, because, as Ries discovered, the principals of lean startups can exist within larger corporations that are attempting to innovate.

Thinking Inside the Box: Eric Ries On Creating Startups Within Large Organizations

Efficiency and metrics tracking – and you can’t achieve one without the other – shouldn’t be  solely the realm of the entrepreneur – they’re core to any successful business.

“The real value is [this] starts to catalyze change because by changing the way you work you start to accelerate that feedback loop […] and that can become the basis for making other changes,” Ries says.

Companies could also benefit … by inspiring their existing employees to be innovative, instead of wrangling up entrepreneurs from a startup, which would save them money in the end.

[17:38] idee?Creative Commons License photo credit: westpark
Paving the way for New Thinking helps
New ideas presented from within an organization can be met with derision, resentment and the entrenchment mentioned above – the reason there’s a consulting industry generally isn’t because  organizations don’t have the talent and ideas aboard already. In my experience, those things usually *are* there. The reason outsiders are brought in is to help those ideas get a foothold and succeed.

It’s almost unfortunate, but many times outsiders are brought in because insiders haven’t gotten it done. It’s not that they weren’t capable; it’s that they didn’t. Without assistance, there’s little to reason to believe this will change. So “fresh eyes” come in to help. Those new perspectives can be brought in even from other parts of the larger organization – the point of the exercise is to make time to think specifically about what your processes are, why they are that way, and what the team can do to improve them.

(Management) “have this idea that a certain alchemy will happen that ‘if I bring these special people into my organization, they will teach my regular people how to be special,’ and that’s just a formula for breeding resentment,” Ries told ReadWriteWeb. “If the people doing the acquiring had more of a theory about how entrepreneurship is supposed to work […] they could start to think of better ways to plug an acquired company into the larger organization, taking advantage of what they’re good at without destroying it.”

Read more of Thinking Inside the Box

The bit about alchemy is mostly true – especially when a larger organization works to consume a smaller, more entrepreneurial organization in whole, it can create a lot of friction without creating the intended value: The good ideas both sides bring are lost to disdain.

Encouraging efficiency and the importance of metrics – “data-driven decision-making” – would improve chances of an organization actually synthesizing what an acquired team had to offer. Putting a framework around how existing team members can be innovative within the organization would make any injection of new ideas that much more welcomed and effective. Then the “fresh eyes” have their best shot at ensuring everyone’s successful.

Required Answers before an Undertaking

I’m currently looking through some best-practices as we look to expand (again) our web analytics and reporting capabilities. There’s lots of info out there about warehousing great swaths of log data, navigation funnels, user behaviors.

“Warehouse” projects I’d been involved with previously had been owned and driven by Technology groups. When I ran across this article, it reïnforced a simple message that’s true for implementations of almost any size: Before you start building anything, ask the Business about their primary goal. From the piece:

statcounter for cybersoc (nov 07 to nov 08)
Creative Commons License photo credit: robinhamman

Business L (person) – I need a data warehouse!
Geek – Why?
BL – Because I need to know stuff.
G – What stuff?
BL – You know, likes sales data and stuff.
G – Can you express that as a single, English question?
BL – I want to know how many of which products we sell in a month, what it costs us, and how much we sold it for.
G – So you want to look at quantity, cost, and purchase price?
BL – Yes.
G – And you just want to know what was bought , when it was bought, and where it was bought?
BL – Exactly.
G – No problem.
BL – Wait, I need a seperate report sorted by sales region, one for product line, one for…
G – Easy turbo. Let’s just start with one specific question and see how that works before worry about any more.
BL- Thank you very much. I find your responses constructive and supportive. I look forward to working with you.

Can’t you produce a simple prototype very quickly on that information? Wouldn’t it answer a lot of questions that are all basically variations on a single theme?

Can’t you just extract a sample of data and slap it on your dev box and go back to BL in a day or two and show him something?

DON’T Build a Data Warehouse

My project management philosophy is simple and effective:

  1. Tell folks what you plan to Do
  2. Do it
  3. Tell them what you’ve Done

Before you can effectively let the business know what you plan to do, it’s beneficial to get as solid an idea as possible of what the business thinks needs doing.

On this current analytics project, I’m the primary client / user as well as the one building the solution. Even so, I’ve let my team know what my plans are and why; I’ve got their buy-in as I’ve already produced several sample reports – and related actionable suggestions – to demonstrate the kinds of insights and intelligence I’m working to produce on an ongoing basis.

I can now proceed accordingly, produce regular results and suggestions, and hope to see those suggestions put in motion.

I recommend reading the referenced article and especially the comments beneath it. Don’t think it applies only to datawarehouse projects – the ideas work for any number of projects.